Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Guatemala on Friday was intended to help calm a surge of children migrating illegally into the U.S., but his message was decidedly mixed when he hinted that some would be allowed to stay.

After a meeting with Central American leaders, Biden noted that "we do intend, and everyone agreed, it is necessary to put them back in the hands of a parent in the country from which they came."

But later in his statement, he left the door open to allowing at least some to stay in the U.S. when he said:

"We're sending immigration judges, attorneys to represent these young people and families with young people, and asylum officers. They have a right under our law to make the case -- make the case that we're here because we're avoiding persecution. We're avoiding something will physically affect our safety."

Since October, 52,000 unaccompanied minors, many of them from Central America, have been apprehended along the southwestern border, in addition to 39,000 adults with children. This wave of illegal immigration has swamped holding facilities, forcing U.S. officials to "surge" resources to the border and scramble for solutions.

Biden's statement is likely to inflame those who blame the recent immigration crisis on U.S. policy: namely, a program enacted by President Obama that allows illegal immigrants to stay in the country provided they arrived as minors before June 2007. While recent arrivals are not eligible for this retroactive program, its existence gives would-be immigrants hope that they will receive similar treatment in the future.

Interviews conducted by immigration enforcement officials with 230 apprehended minors confirm that a high percentage traveled to the United States under the impression that "a new law" was giving unaccompanied minors and adults with children a free pass into the country.

The White House argues that the recent wave of immigrants stems not from its policies but from conditions in the minors' home countries. Biden repeated this claim on Friday, citing Central American "poverty, insecurity and lack of the rule of law" for the problem.